Yesterday was the first studio class of the new school year. Studio happens basically every other Tuesday at 12:15 – and it’s an opportunity for every teacher to meet with their students as a group. For each voice teacher, it’s a chance to get together with their students and have them sing for one another and offer any comments they might have. That may not sound like a rip-snortin’ good time to you, but I am not exaggerating when I say that it’s probably my favorite hour of the whole week. Maybe part of it is that when I have basically all of my voice students in one place at one time, I find myself overwhelmed with what a great group they are and it makes me feel even luckier to be their teacher. (Sort of like the patriarch of a large family feels as his children and grandchildren gather around him to pose for a family portrait.)
Once in awhile the little light bulb of inspiration goes off above my head, and it happened yesterday as I was doing some warmups with the group. As I looked around the semi circle, I realized that there were all these terrific freshmen that were basically unknown quantities to the upperclassmen, and vice versa- and although I knew what a colossal collection of talent they were, they themselves had no way of knowing it. So when we were finished warming up, I had everybody sit down except Ben Kuttler, a fine tenor who also happens to be president of the Carthage Choir. “Sing this, Ben” I said as I played through another vocalise – and then sat back as Ben filled the room with that beautiful voice of his. I thanked him and then gestured for Zach Wolf to stand, and had him do the same thing, so everyone could hear his warm baritone voice. And I proceeded to work my way around the semi- circle, calling on each upperclassman, one by one, to stand and sing the same vocalise. . . Dan, Andrew, Matt, Justin, another Matt, Craig, another Andrew, Brian . . . and when they were all done, I said a few words about how the neatest thing about the human voice is that every voice is utterly unique – and that there are many different kinds of beauty when one is talking about the human voice – and that my job is not to make any of them sound like anybody else but rather to help make each of them exactly the singer that God meant for them to be. And then I called on one of my freshman guys, Will, who was on the far right of the semi-circle, and asked him to do the same thing. And from there, I called on Doug, Jeff, Michael, Drew, Brent, and Bob – all of my freshmen or new students. One after another, they sang beautifully. I have said it before, but it’s really true this time around- I have never had such a collectively impressive group of voice students before. And if our first lessons are any indication, they will be a wonderfully satisfying group with which to work.
They did seem a bit quiet and nervous – but I am hoping that they will very soon become fully comfortable with one another, so they will come to regard studio as a place where they can sing and know that their efforts will be honored and respected and appreciated. I think I was thinking about this a lot (more than usual) because of an email I received this week from a woman whose son (who’s in middle school) desperately loves to sing but feels completely on-his-own as far as his peers are concerned. Apparently he is in a middle school where it is most certainly NOT cool for a guy to sing- and especially for a guy to be passionate and enthusiastic about singing. She is hoping that high school will be better for him, and I do too- and I hope that when my schedule allows me to give him some voice lessons, I will be able to give him some extra encouragement. It reminded me of a presentation I saw at the voice teachers convention in Nashville this summer. A woman from Florida who specializes in teaching junior high males gave us a very impressive demonstration of what she does- and ended her talk by imploring all of us to please open our studio doors to any young male who loves to sing and is trying to find their way. She said – and I think she’s absolutely right – that a male who feels unsupported and alone in his love of singing is very likely to give it up. . . especially if he’s struggling during that rocky time of voice-changing . . . and anything we can do to help them through that will probably ensure that the world has one more male singer! So as I looked over this wonderful group of guy singers – 16 of my 23 voice students at Carthage – I silently gave thanks for whoever had been there for each of these young men in their respective lives, encouraging them and helping them to be even better singers, . . . and pledged to do my part to help them nurture their gifts and to leave my studio with an even deeper love of singing than they had when they first walked through the door.
If that happens, I’m doing my job.